A “Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons” novel
by Chris Bishop
Colonel White extended his left arm to put the cup on the low table set next to the wheelchair. Giving a grunt of exasperation, he reached for his right shoulder, and irritably rubbed the bandage covering it, sliding his hand under the pyjama top.
“I wouldn’t touch it if I were you.”
White gave a sideways look toward the man quietly seated in front of him, his legs crossed and himself holding a cup of tea.
“I can’t help it,” the colonel replied grumpily. “It’s itching like mad!”
“Which means it’s healing, right?”
White gave the man a rueful smile, before turning to look thoughtfully through the Promenade Deck window. On the upper runway, down below, he could see the three Angel craft, waiting for take-off, with Angel One and her pilot at the helm. He was wondering which of the girls was there at the moment.
“Penny for your thoughts, sir?”
The colonel’s attention came back to his visitor. Senior Agent Thomas Wade, of Spectrum Intelligence, had made the trip from London to Cloudbase especially to see him, and it wasn’t to pay him a formal visit. White shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and reached again for his bandaged shoulder. Seeing the bemused smile on Wade’s face, he stopped, and lowered his hand, resting it in his lap.
“I don’t think you’d be making a very good investment, Thomas,” he answered to Wade’s comment.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Wade replied, narrowing his eyes at the older man. “I’m sure there’s a lot going on in your mind at the moment…” He shook his head. “I’m glad you’re feeling better now. You didn’t look well at all in that hospital in Newcastle last week.”
Colonel White nodded slowly. He didn’t remember much about his arrival at The Princess Margaret Memorial Hospital in Newcastle, where he had been rushed right after the explosion on the Sir Francis Drake. He was unconscious, having lost a lot of blood. Not so much, he was told, as to put his life in danger, but enough to cause worry. The hospital staff had been wonderful with him – especially considering the fact that Spectrum had practically taken over the place. Everybody going in and out was thoroughly checked out, especially those who had to come into contact with the colonel. Spectrum was concerned about the safety of its commander and was taking no chances. All the while, however, making sure that its presence didn’t disturb the well-being of the other patients – who, White was sure, were certainly wondering what all that activity going on for just one person was all about. There had even been a couple of guards permanently assigned to keep their eyes on him. White was still wondering today – with a certain dry humour – if they had been there to protect him, or to make sure that he wouldn’t get it into his head to escape Spectrum yet again. Most probably for both reasons.
Spectrum didn’t need to worry. From the moment he woke up in that hospital, the memories had started flowing back into his mind, giving him so many migraines in the following days that Doctor Fawn – who had come directly from Cloudbase to consult with the hospital doctors – had to prescribe him a strong daily dose of painkillers. Fortunately, after four days, Fawn determined that White had responded well to this treatment, and he ordered him weaned off the medication. By that time, Colonel White’s memory was back, and the disastrous effects – and side effects – of the Dream Spinner were mercifully gone. But it had left him with a certain bad taste about what he had done. Because he remembered it. There were admittedly a few confused details here and there – mainly about the moments that had been the most hectic in that entire incident – but most of it was clear enough for him not to like what he had recalled.
“How long before you’re back in command, Colonel?”
White came out of his fugue, hearing Wade’s voice addressing him. “At least another week,” he answered. “Maybe two.”
“Always the optimist, aren’t you?”
White gestured toward his left leg, elevated in a brace. “This leg’s keeping me down. I’m still convalescing until it’s healed enough for me to put some weight on it. I can’t wait to be out of this wheelchair, I can tell you!”
“Well, at least you’re out of sickbay now,” Wade remarked.
White gave him a whimsical smile. “Maybe because I escaped?”
“You’re not serious, are you?” Wade answered, laughing softly.
The colonel shook his head. No, of course he wasn’t. Or it would be a sure bet all of Cloudbase would be on alert to find him right now! In reality, Doctor Fawn had thought it wise and healthy to let him be brought to the Promenade Deck. It was certainly a much more agreeable place to recuperate than the four, boring walls of a room in sickbay.
“You know, Colonel, in a way, seeing you like this, it’s kind of a relief.”
Colonel White gave Agent Wade a withering look; the man quickly shrugged his shoulders. “What I mean is, the fact that you’re healing at a normal rate means that you weren’t Mysteronised.”
“Thank you, “ the colonel grumbled. “You’re really too kind.”
“You know that Agent Conners was convinced that you actually had been Mysteronised?”
“Conners,” White repeated, musing. “Yes. I remember he paid me a visit in hospital.”
It was the day after the Spectrum commander had been admitted. Special Agent Conners had arrived at the hospital and had asked – no, ‘demanded’ was more the word – to see him without delay. Captain Blue was already there, with Doctor Fawn. White didn’t feel well enough at the time to receive visitors; he was only just starting to recover from his various wounds and the loss of blood he had suffered, and was right at the height of those awful headaches caused by his returning memory. Due to Conners’ growing insistence, and perhaps to avoid him making a scene right in the middle of the hospital hallway, Fawn had reluctantly agreed that he could see his patient. But he had specifically forbidden him to ask any stressful questions for the moment. Conners was satisfied enough with that, and Blue entered with him, to make sure he would follow the doctor’s orders. At least, that was the official reason.
The encounter was uneventful. To all appearances, anyway. White was still very weak, and was looking pale. He was nearly knocked out from medication and merely acknowledged the man’s presence – probably the most civil encounter the two men had ever had. There was a nurse in there, removing the colonel’s soiled bandages to check on his wounded shoulder. Under Blue’s watchful eye, Conners did nothing more than look on, as the nurse tended to the wound and put a new dressing on it. He merely asked White how he felt now, if he would be so kind as to agree to see him when he recovered, to answer a few questions, and politely wished him a speedy recovery. Then he went quietly out the door. So much for his theory that the Spectrum commander had been taken over by the Mysterons.
White hadn’t seen Conners since that moment. He had learned that Conners had questioned the hospital staff who were there when he had been admitted, and that he had consulted the files regarding his admission and the care he had received. But he hadn’t come back to bother the colonel again. That was intriguing enough, in White’s view. Conners wasn’t the kind of man to let go that easily.
It occurred to White that Conners had been taken off the investigation. The fact that Wade was now in front of him was a good indication that he had been right.
“Sorry he disturbed you there,” Wade said with a rather apologetic smile. “But he was so sure of his theory that he convinced even me.”
White raised an eyebrow. The Intelligence agent shrugged again.
“I’ve got to admit, he had some valid points. That’s why I gave him permission to come to Cloudbase in the first place, while this latest affair with the Mysterons was happening.”
“I trust his suspicions – and yours at the same time – have been laid to rest?” White remarked, eyeing the other man carefully.
“Oh, certainly,” Wade agreed, sipping the last drop of tea from his cup.
“Mister Conners must have been disappointed,” White noted, for he knew the man didn’t like him at all.
Wade seemed surprised by his remark. He shook his head. “Disappointed? No… I wouldn’t say that. Upset that he was wrong, perhaps.”
Wade poured some more tea into White’s cup and handed it to him. The colonel nodded his thanks.
“Colonel, I know Special Agent Conners didn’t have any real evidence to back up his accusations… But as I said, he had valid points. We couldn’t reach you, nobody had seen you or heard from you in days… And your Cloudbase officers weren’t helping any. They were so secretive about this affair… It was looking suspicious.”
“Enough to warrant an investigation?”
“Enough to look into it, anyway. I’m sorry. If I had been able to actually contact you…”
“But you WEREN’T able to contact me.”
“No. And that’s why I permitted Conners to go on with his investigation.” Wade sighed. “I think he went a bit far. Going to the extent of actually accusing Cloudbase officers…”
“Well, don’t be too hard on him,” White murmured, looking down into his cup. “He could have been right.”
“About you being Mysteronised?”
Colonel White nodded thoughtfully. Senior Agent Thomas Wade didn’t know the entire story. Not the full details, anyway. That was a difficult matter, and White didn’t know yet how to handle it, whether the truth should be brought out or not. Mainly because of Cloudbase officers’ involvement in hiding it in the first place. He realized that they had done this out of a sense of loyalty toward him, and to keep and protect Spectrum’s integrity – or so they said. White had no reason to doubt them. And judging by what Shelby had told him, while he was on the Drake, it had turned out their suspicions about what could happen had been right. Beside, could he be less loyal to them than they had been to him? But keeping all this a secret from Intelligence didn’t seem right to Colonel White. It made him uncomfortable.
At least, part of the truth was out. Wade knew about the real meaning behind the Mysterons’ cryptic threat. He knew about their intention of using retired Admiral Charles Grey and the ship he had commanded twenty-five years ago to strike at a cruise liner full of innocent people. He knew about Colonel White having been kidnapped at some point, that they tried to drug him – but he wasn’t aware of the full extent of what he had had to endure from those who had captured him.
As far as Wade knew, because of his personal involvement in this affair, Colonel White had simply joined in the ground operation to stop the Mysterons. And that it had turned out terribly wrong and nearly had deadly consequences for him.
“They could have done it,” White responded to the Senior Agent’s remark. “They probably would have done it, if their plan had not called for them to use me as a human to enter the Naval Armament Depot in Bristol… And to eventually make me witness the deaths of all those people onboard the de Brus. I suppose I was lucky, even considering… everything that happened.”
“Well, the point is, Colonel, that they didn’t do it. And I guess that’s what really counts. For all of us. And more importantly, for you.”
“Thank you, Thomas.”
Wade frowned. “You didn’t tell me exactly how you managed to convince them you were on their side.”
White shrugged. “They drugged me. They thought they had me under their power.”
“But you weren’t.”
“They tried to trick you into doing things for them, but YOU tricked THEM.”
“That’s about it, yes.”
“How did you achieve that, exactly?”
White smiled slightly. “I suppose I proved stronger than they anticipated.”
“I won’t dispute that, Colonel.” Wade stared at the older man for a few seconds. “And Spectrum had this operation under control all the time?”
There was a note of scepticism in Wade’s tone. White grinned again, this time broadly. “Have you ever seen me leaving anything to chance, Thomas?”
“When you’re out of options, sir, I would have to say yes.”
“I knew what I was doing. I was a ground agent once.”
“A LONG time ago.”
“Now, that’s not very tactful, Thomas! I’m still quite capable of handling that kind of situation myself. I’m not that old!”
“Which can only be a comforting thought for me. I turn forty-five next week…”
“…And I’m sure I don’t have half the energy you have yourself.”
And certainly not half the bruises, White mused grimly. His muscles and bones would still be aching for weeks to come, he was sure of that.
“Anyway, Colonel, what I’m saying is: you’re still Spectrum’s supreme commander. We need you. You shouldn’t take unnecessary risks like that.”
“You know, I wasn’t exactly given the choice to get involved or not!” White answered with a forced smile.
Wade gave a smile of his own; he shook his head.
“I do hope this experience will be enough for you and that you’ll stay quiet for a while. You’d better leave that kind of activity to your men.”
“I’ll try to keep that in mind next time I’m kidnapped,” White replied dryly. “Which, hopefully, will NOT happen again!”
“I hope so too, Colonel. But with the Mysterons…”
“I’m not ONLY concerned with the Mysterons, Thomas.” White paused. His stare became cold and somewhat distant. “There’s the Network as well, now. I don’t much fancy the idea of having a group of human collaborators with the Mysterons running around. And who seem to have infiltrated world security organisations.”
Wade nodded grimly.
Sounds coming from the access door, a few yards away from them, attracted the two men’s attention, and made them raise their heads in the same instant. They saw Rhapsody and Destiny enter through the sliding door, closely followed by Harmony and Symphony; all of them were in animated conversation, and seemed in a good mood. Having spotted where Colonel White was sitting, they headed toward him. Wade smiled slightly and got to his feet, putting down his empty cup.
“It seems you have important visitors, sir,” he said to White, before consulting his watch. “I should get going, anyway. I must be in London this afternoon.”
“You’re finished with your investigation, then?” White asked quietly.
“What ‘investigation’?” Wade replied with an innocent expression on his face. “Nobody said anything about an investigation. It was just a courtesy visit, sir. To get your news…”
The tone used by Senior Agent Wade was enough for Colonel White to understand that the man knew much more about what had happened than he was letting on. But, for some reason, he was choosing to keep silent about it. The Spectrum commander nodded thoughtfully, thankful that, for his officers’ sake, THIS man was, in any case, more understanding than Martin Conners.
“Do inform me if you have any new developments concerning the investigation into that Network organisation,” White requested of him.
Following standard procedure, Spectrum Intelligence had been handed everything discovered about that organisation during the recent operation. That was Intelligence’s role, anyway, to do that kind of job. To the colonel’s surprise, Wade shook his head.
“Not yet, I won’t.” White addressed him a withering look, but Wade simply smiled again. “Sorry. But I shouldn’t even have bothered you with it today. Doctor Fawn would have my guts if he finds out I mentioned it to you. Says it’s a hazardous subject, as far as you’re concerned. For now, anyway. And remember, you’re convalescent. So no work for you for the time being.” He watched, as the four Angel pilots approached. “I’ll leave you in good company, for now.”
“Have a good trip back home, then. And give my regards to your charming wife.”
“Will do, Colonel. Take care of yourself.”
Senior Agent Wade gave the colonel an encouraging pat on his good shoulder, and then turned away from him. He walked through the group of Angels, exchanging salutations with them in passing, before directing his steps toward the exit. He soon disappeared behind the sliding door.
The four Angel pilots had reached Colonel White and stood quietly in front of him. He stared at them, full of curiosity. Instinctively, he reached again for his itching shoulder, but stopped short. He dropped his hand down again, hoping nobody had noticed. He gave a shy smile around.
“Shouldn’t at least two of you be in the Amber Room right now?”
His tone was civil enough, and very quiet, but the Angels thought they heard a certain note of disapproval in it. They exchanged discomfited glances, obviously unsure how to respond to this remark. White regretted his words right away. That wasn’t very nice of you, Charlie. The girls have obviously come for a social visit. He cleared his throat, uncomfortable, and tried to make amends.
“I’m sorry, ladies. I’m forgetting that I’m still convalescing and off-duty. I can’t order you around for now.” The smile he gave had something singularly mischievous about it. “So I suggest you take advantage of the situation while it lasts.”
“We won’t stay long, sir,” Symphony assured him, speaking for them all. “We don’t intend to jeopardize Cloudbase’s security.”
“I’m sure you don’t.” White shook his head, a puzzled twinkle in his eyes. “So, how can I help you?”
“Actually, sir,” Harmony replied, “that should be our line.”
“We appointed ourselves the welcoming committee,” Symphony explained.
“Welcoming committee? You sound as if I’d been gone a very long time!”
“Well, you’ve certainly came a long way, sir,” Rhapsody remarked. “And it felt like an eternity before you… er…”
“…came back to normal?” the colonel offered, raising a questioning eyebrow.
Rhapsody nodded. Destiny moved closer to White. “We wanted to welcome you back officially, sir,” she said with her deep, accented voice. “And to tell you how good it is to see you back amongst us… Melody shares the thought too, but as you guess, she’s currently on duty, in Angel One. She asked me to convey her good wishes on her behalf.” She then bent down and kissed White on both cheeks. “Bienvenue, mon Colonel,” she said in a very official tone.
A totally startled White stared at Destiny, then at each of the other girls for a moment, not sure how to act. Then he gave a big, broad smile, one of those the Angels seldom saw from him. He was only known to smile like that when he was in a remarkably good mood, which wasn’t too often.
“That’s really very kind of you, Angels,” he said gently. “Thank you.”
“We really were concerned for you, sir,” Harmony remarked.
“And still are a bit,” Symphony added.
Her tone was betraying her discomfort. Looking around, Colonel White realised instantly that the sentiment was shared by the others.
“Well, there’s no need for that, anymore,” he answered, wanting to reassure them. “The nightmare is over now, and I should be back on duty very soon.” He moved uneasily in his wheelchair, trying to find a more comfortable position, and then ran his good hand over the back of his sore neck, grunting. “I’ll really be glad to be out of this thing. I feel like I’m growing roots in here!”
The Angels exchanged glances again; then, they spread out around their colonel. He watched in perplexity, while Rhapsody took his cup to pour some more tea. Harmony moved behind him; he suddenly felt her small but strong and warm hands on his shoulders, starting to gently rub them. He was too startled to react right away.
“You just have to relax, sir,” he heard the Chinese girl’s quiet voice tell him. “A little massage is just what you need.”
“Massage?” White repeated hesitantly. “I admit it’s tempting but I don’t think…”
“You are all knots in here. Relax. You will feel better afterwards.”
He could already feel the heat through his neck muscles; he had to confess, it wasn’t so bad at all; and he would probably had enjoyed himself much more if he didn’t feel it was somehow unbecoming.
“Harmony, I really do think that you should…”
“Have some more tea, Colonel?” Rhapsody interrupted him, handing him back his cup.
“Would you like to come closer to the window?” Symphony asked in turn. She had firmly taken one handle of the wheelchair, while, at the same time, Destiny had done the same with the other one. White saw the two girls locking eyes with each other, in an almost challenging pose. He rolled his eyes in exasperation. While the girls’ attention was very flattering, it was also becoming too overwhelming – and also quite embarrassing. But he didn’t want to sound ungrateful, or lose patience with them. After all, they were only trying to be nice to him. And considering the recent events, if he were to get angry, there was a good chance that it would alarm them.
“Ladies, please,” he tried with as even a voice he could produce. “I really, REALLY don’t think I need all this fuss. While I find it very flattering, I’m quite capable of fending for myself.”
“We’re NOT fussing!” Destiny protested. She sounded offended at the thought.
“Yes, you are,” Colonel White insisted between his teeth, keeping himself under control.
“But even so, sir,” Symphony then replied, “we don’t get the chance to do it too often.”
White almost snorted hearing that. He considered himself too old to be the centre of such attention from young women… and at the same time, still much too young to accept being treated like an ageing and impotent old man.
The access door a few yards from the spot where they all were slid open, without anybody even noticing it. Captain Scarlet entered the Promenade Deck, a gift-wrapped package in his hands, and stopped in his tracks on seeing Colonel White surrounded by the four Angels. He tilted his head to one side and looked with perplexity at the scene. Then, understanding of what was happening dawned on him, and he smiled with amusement, seeing how unsettled his commander appeared to be.
Swiftly, before his presence became noticed, he slipped into the cover of a copse of high bushes near the door and kept watching what was going on. The old man looks as if he needs some help, he noticed, trying very hard not to laugh. He wondered how long he would be able to keep himself in check. Not long, if he were to bet on it. The best thing would be to intervene discreetly.
Scarlet dropped down his cap mic. “Captain Blue?” he called, almost in a whisper, so nobody would hear him. “Do you feel like mounting another rescue mission today?”
Meanwhile, Colonel White was really starting to get annoyed with all the attention he was getting. Impatiently, he tried to brush away Harmony’s massaging hands, still working on his shoulders.
“Harmony, stop that,” he said with apparent exasperation in his tone. “That will be enough, thank you very much.”
“Are you sure, Colonel?” the Chinese girl asked, obviously disappointed. “You are still a little tense…”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure. Your massage did me a lot of good.” White sighed deeply. “I’m just… tired. I think I’d better go back to my room.”
“Are you feeling all right, sir?” Destiny asked in concern.
“Yes, I’m all right. I’m JUST tired.” White was distraught. He didn’t want to get angry, so he wouldn’t upset and frighten the girls, but if he was to say he was feeling tired, and judging by their worried expressions, he would alarm them all the same, but for a different reason. How could he get away from their attentions?
At about that desperate moment, the Promenade Deck speakers let out a loud whistle, and a stern voice made itself heard through it, startling almost everybody in the room:
“Attention all personnel! Routine exercise for all on-duty personnel. Report to stations immediately. Angel pilots, prepare to take-off for target practice. Off-duty personnel report to the conference room in ten minutes!”
That was the voice of Captain Blue; the Angels looked at each other with dismay upon their faces.
“Oh no!” Harmony murmured.
“Captain Bligh strikes again,” Symphony murmured under her breath.
White gave her a curious look; he had enormous trouble not to let out a sigh of relief. He tried to hide his satisfaction behind a faint, somewhat shy smile. “You’d better go now, ladies. Before you catch hell from your acting commander.”
“Right,” Destiny agreed with a sigh. “Let’s go, girls. You know Captain Blue does not like to wait.”
The others reluctantly nodded their acknowledgment, before moving toward the access door, regretfully leaving the colonel behind. Symphony and Harmony were marching up front, very quickly, and the hidden Scarlet could see the intense dissatisfaction on their faces.
”I will be glad when the colonel is back in command,” Harmony commented with a grumbling tone.
“Tell me about it!” Symphony replied between her teeth. “I’ve had about enough of Blue’s power trips! Wait ‘til I get my hands on him!”
Uh-oh! Adam’s in trouble with his lady friend, Scarlet mused, not without a certain amusement. He wondered how his friend would get out of that one, and find a way to defuse Symphony’s anger.
Not really a problem there, actually.
The two remaining Angels were about to follow their fellow pilots, when Colonel White suddenly caught hold of Rhapsody’s forearm, stopping her in her tracks. She turned back toward him with an inquiring look. He exchanged a glance with her, before looking down, uncharacteristically hesitant when he next spoke:
“I… er… I would like to talk to you for a few minutes, if you please, Rhapsody.”
She hesitated. Destiny was only three feet away from them, obviously wondering if she should wait or go.
“I’m… scheduled for duty in Angel Two, sir, and…”
“Oh, do stay!” Destiny suddenly interrupted. “I’ll cover your shift for you this time, Rhapsody.”
The English pilot shot a withering look at her grinning and departing friend.
“Thanks, Destiny,” she said coolly, keeping herself from frowning. “Leaving me with the monkeys again, are you?”
Rhapsody could almost hear Destiny chuckle mischievously.
Scarlet was still hidden behind the bushes, unnoticed. He watched as the French woman strode out through the sliding door to get into the elevator. Then he turned his attention back to Colonel White and Rhapsody. He stayed where he was, and waited. Now was not the moment to show himself, as he had a feeling the colonel had some unfinished business to attend to with the Angel pilot.
Rhapsody was standing in front of her commander, waiting to know what he wanted from her. She could see the puzzled expression in his blue eyes, as he was staring at her.
“I hope I’m not the monkey?” he asked, unsure.
Rhapsody chuckled. The confusion in White was understandable, considering the exchange she just had with Destiny, but had absolutely no motivation. She smiled kindly.
“No, sir, that had nothing to do with you. It’s an old story and, as they say: you had to be there.” She paused a second, then cleared her throat. “Now… what can I do for you, sir?”
White was now looking rather sombre. He shook his head. “Sit down, please.”
Rhapsody was really curious to know what this was all about; she obeyed his request, and sat on the chair in front of him. She waited for him to speak. The colonel seemed uncharacteristically shy, right now. He was avoiding looking her straight in the eye, and was staring, without really seeing, at the tip of his slipper, at the end of his injured, elevated leg. It took several seconds before he could bring himself to address the young woman.
“I… hem… I wanted to see you in private, Rhapsody. So I could offer you my most sincere apologies.”
She frowned. “Whatever for?”
“Do you need to ask?” White finally raised his eyes to look at her. “My behaviour towards you… was inexcusable.”
“You weren’t yourself, sir. You don’t need to apologise.”
“Yes, I do. Rhapsody, I can’t even BEGIN to forgive myself. The LEAST I can do now is ask for YOUR forgiveness.” White’s features became hard. “I kidnapped you. Mistreated you… Terrorised you. I… I hit you. And even held a knife against your throat.” He shivered at the mere thought of that moment, and swallowed hard, before clearing his throat. “God knows what could have happened if you hadn’t been able to contact Spectrum. Dear Lord, maybe I could have…”
He stopped; Rhapsody could only imagine what was going through his mind, by seeing the pain in his blue, suddenly distant eyes. She leaned toward him, gently reached for his hand, and smiled warmly.
“I really don’t think you would have hurt me, sir.”
“I wish I could be certain of that,” he replied gloomily. “But I had so little control over myself at the time…” He shook his head, sighing. “I really never meant you to get hurt, Rhapsody. Not willingly, anyway. But… to think that because of me, you were almost raped…”
“Because of you?”
“I feel responsible. If I had not taken you prisoner, that scum Dempsey would NEVER have come near you.”
“You can’t know that. I could have been killed instead – and Captain Ochre with me – in your friend’s house.” White kept silent; apparently, he wasn’t convinced. Rhapsody moved on: “Sir, that’s the kind of risk that comes with our job. I wouldn’t be in Spectrum if I didn’t accept that. Or if I couldn’t take care of myself.”
A faint smile swept across the colonel’s lips, at the memory of how he had found Dempsey, with a broken nose, sprawled at the feet of the young woman he had attempted to assault.
“Yes, I know you can take care of yourself,” he said, nodding thoughtfully. He then pointed to the dressing put on his left temple. “I still have the wound to prove it.”
Rhapsody scowled. “I hope it doesn’t leave a scar.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t. And you’re not the only one responsible for that, you know: I got repeatedly hit over the head, during that dreadful adventure. I wish it would have brought me back to my senses before I made a mess of things!”
That was a pitiful attempt at a joke. Rhapsody shook her head, still feeling bad. “Nevertheless, I’m really sorry I hit you with that bottle.”
“Don’t be. I deserved it. Rhapsody, you were afraid for your life. You thought I was a Mysteron; I had become violent. How could you know I wasn’t going to hurt you?”
“I could have killed you.”
“You didn’t kill me; in fact, I would say that you saved my life after that. I remember. YOU could have been killed when you pushed me away from that bullet. You could have been hit instead of me. But you didn’t hesitate.”
“I knew the truth by then. That you had been drugged, and were not really aware of what you were doing. I couldn’t let you be killed. I HAD to do something.”
“Regardless of everything I had done to you?”
“Really, sir… I can hardly hold that against you.”
“Not even for the way I embarrassed you?”
Rhapsody stared at him; wondering what he could be referring to exactly. White sighed; he looked very uncomfortable. “You know… That question I asked you. About… you and me…”
He watched as understanding then dawned on her. He thought he saw some red coming to her cheeks, but it was just for a moment, as she slowly settled straight on her chair, and nodded thoughtfully.
“Oh, now I see. THAT question.” She cleared her throat. “Well, yes… I must admit it WAS embarrassing.”
“I don’t know what possessed me to ask you that!” White said, with a bashful enough expression on his face. “I… my mind was in complete turmoil at the time. With huge gaps in my memory. I couldn’t even remember most of my past, except through a thick haze. Let alone remember exactly what had happened the day before! I thought for certain that you were involved with… my capture by the enemy. So I…” He stopped, scratching his head in embarrassment. “I rather naturally assumed you had seduced me… in order to…”
The colonel stopped again, seeming at a loss for words. Rhapsody could see how unsettled he was by the whole situation. He had gone through enough, she reflected. No sense in dragging it out.
“I forgive you, sir,” she said gently. “I accept your apologies. For everything.”
White blew a deep sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“…But under ONE condition,” Rhapsody added swiftly.
He stared at her, concern in his eyes, but was quickly reassured when next she spoke: “I still recall that I owe you that bottle of brandy I broke over your head…”
“I told you I would replace it,” Rhapsody continued, without listening to the colonel’s protests. “So, next time I go to my father’s, I’ll sneak into his cellar… and steal the best bottle of brandy he has, just for you.”
White stared at her with perplexity. He frowned. “From your father’s cellar?” He gave it some deep thought, then nodded slowly. “Would you make it a bottle of Cognac, instead?”
Rhapsody chuckled. “Whatever you want, sir.”
“You’ll drink it with me.”
“Here on Cloudbase?”
That was a joke, of course; and White knew that perfectly well. “Of course not,” he replied, with a frown of fake seriousness. “You know that drinking on duty…”
“…is a most serious offence,” Rhapsody finished for him.
He nodded musingly. “I do tend to repeat myself, don’t I?”
“Not that often, sir.”
“You’re trying to be nice to me, now.” White shrugged. “I was thinking that, I owe you something myself; a musical, next time we’re both in London…”
“That’s not really necessary, Colonel.”
“But I do insist. And I won’t take no for an answer.”
Rhapsody sighed. “All right, then. Since you put it that way.”
“Although I’m not sure Les Misérables will still be on when we’re next able to get down there,” White remarked.
“It doesn’t matter, sir. Whatever it is, I’m sure it will be fine.”
“Then it’s settled.” Colonel White gave the young woman pilot a satisfied grin. He was looking as if a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. “Well, that went better than I thought it would,” he noted with a sigh. “I’ve got a lot of amends to make to a lot of people, you know. After all the things I did…”
Rhapsody nodded, understandingly. “That can’t be easy for you,” she noted, knowing her commander’s pride, and how difficult it must be for him to apologise to so many people, even – or rather especially – when he wasn’t really responsible for all that had happened.
“I know my failings, Rhapsody. And, no, it’s not going to be easy. But I have to admit, it’s going really well up so far. People have been so… understanding.”
“They know what you’ve been through, sir. That shouldn’t surprise you.”
“Maybe so, but… I’m still feeling very bad about all this. I put everybody on edge, shot at people, threatened them… Doctor Fawn wasn’t so sure I wouldn’t attack him, the first day he visited me in that civilian hospital. And poor Captain Magenta… what I did to his nose...”
“He’ll survive, sir,” Rhapsody smiled. “You know he’s tough. With his background, it's probably not the first time either.”
“Well that doesn’t minimize the fact that I nearly killed him,” White grumbled. “He DID accept my apologies, quite gracefully, I might add. Despise his rather… chaotic background, he’s also a very decent and nice person.” White looked thoughtful for a moment. “You know, Captain Ochre surprised me most of all.”
“Well, knowing him, I fully expected him to hold a grudge against me, considering I put a bullet in his shoulder.”
White shook his head. “No, quite the contrary, actually. He was really quite magnanimous. Said we were even, as I’d been shot through the shoulder too.” White frowned, thoughtful. “He even recommended to me the nurse who took personal care of him during his convalescence.”
Rhapsody gave him an odd look. “Nurse Lang?”
“Yes, that’s the name. Ochre says she’s extraordinarily caring. She should start this afternoon. You know her?”
“I’ve… heard of her.” Rhapsody hesitated. She was trying her best not to openly chuckle at Ochre’s far too obvious attempt at a practical joke at the colonel’s expense. That he should even have the nerve to actually do it was disconcerting enough. Obviously, THIS was his way of really getting even with his commander.
Seeing the expression on the young pilot’s face, Colonel White realised something was afoot. He narrowed his eyes at her, curious.
“What? Is something wrong? Or have I said something funny?”
“Funny, sir?” Rhapsody paused, pondering what to do or to say. She didn’t want to blow the whistle on Ochre. On the other hand, keeping silent seemed awfully unfair to White.
“Have you ever read Virgil, sir?”
The colonel stared at her; what an odd question… “A long time ago, yes.”
“Then, you must know what he said about Greeks bearing gifts?”
Rhapsody didn’t elaborate; not that she would have the time to do so, if she had wanted too. The access door had just opened and they heard footsteps approaching; raising their heads to see who it was, they saw Doctor Fawn, in full uniform, approaching cheerfully, a smile on his face and a medical bag in his hand.
“Still here are you, Colonel?” he said, addressing White. “I thought I wouldn’t have to search for you too long.” He glanced at Rhapsody. “And you’re in charming company, I see.”
“Why, thank you, Doctor,” Rhapsody replied, smiling.
Fawn nodded toward White, still addressing the young woman. “I trust he’s been behaving himself?”
“Of course he has!” Rhapsody scoffed. “What a thing to say!”
“Well, I’ve got my reasons,” Fawn deadpanned. “He’s not the ideal patient, you know. I have all the trouble in the world persuading him to rest in sickbay.”
“So that’s why you sent me here now, is it?” White reflected. “To get some peace and quiet.”
“Nothing gets by you, does it, sir?” Fawn removed his cap and put it on the table, along with his bag. “Mind if I borrow him for a few minutes, Rhapsody? I’ve got a few check-up tests to perform.”
“Not again!” Colonel White moaned with obvious discontent. “I thought I was finished with those tests!”
“Not as long as you are under my responsibility and until I’m fully satisfied that you’re all right,” Fawn replied dryly. “You’ve been through a lot, sir, and I want to make sure you’re completely recovered before I agree to release you from sickbay… and then back to active duty. I don’t want you risking a relapse of any kind.”
White scowled at those words. He didn’t need Doctor Fawn to patronize him at all. But there was little point protesting; the chief medical officer was the one calling the shots in these circumstances, and even White had to follow his orders.
“Just be glad that I don’t need you down in sickbay this time,” Fawn continued, less harshly. “I’ll do some simple routine check-ups right now, and you’ll still be able to admire the view.”
“Small consolation,” White grumbled under his breath. He knew very well that Fawn had heard him, but the doctor acted as if he hadn’t.
“He’s all yours, Doctor,” Rhapsody announced, getting to her feet. “I really must be going now. I should be in the Conference Room. You know Captain Blue doesn’t joke about discipline.”
“Not another one of those dreadful lectures?” Fawn said, lifting an eyebrow. “Well, at least this time, I don’t have to give it.” He smiled gently. “Do tell me what this one is all about.”
“Are you sure you REALLY want to know?” Rhapsody leaned toward the colonel. “Get better soon, PLEASE, sir,” she told him, almost in confidence. “We can’t wait to have you back in command!”
“I’ll do my best,” White promised. “With the doctor’s expert help.”
Rhapsody answered with a smile and then, after nodding her goodbyes to Fawn, took her leave, striding toward the exit. Behind her, she could hear the doctor opening his bag, before asking Colonel White to give him his free arm, so he could to take a blood sample. The grumble she heard coming from her commander told her he was reluctantly agreeing to the demand.
The Angel pilot had reached the door, but didn’t have time to open it before she heard a rustling sound coming from behind the bushes to her right. Glancing that way, she saw Captain Scarlet emerging from them, a bashful and mischievous smile upon his handsome face. She frowned in perplexity.
“How long have you been hiding in there?” she asked, in a falsely accusatory tone.
“Long enough to wonder if I should get jealous,” Scarlet answered with a faint laugh. He gave a quick glance in Colonel White and Doctor Fawn’s direction; too involved with the medical check-up, neither were paying attention to what was going on around them, and hadn’t seen him yet. Scarlet gently took his fiancée by the arm and pulled her behind the bushes, although not as far as he had previously been himself; he then permitted himself to kiss her cheek.
“Careful, now,” she whispered, putting a hand on his chest, as if trying to stop him from going further, but obviously not really wanting to. “You’re taking an enormous risk, here.”
“I spend my entire life taking risks, Angel,” he reminded her with a smile. “This is just one more… And one that’s worth it, might I add.”
“That’s not the risk I was referring to,” Rhapsody replied with a mischievous grin of her own. “If you start spying on me now…”
“What, frustrated that I might actually be better at it than you are?” Scarlet laughed. “Anyway, I wasn’t spying on you.” He glanced once more toward Colonel White, who, at the moment, was giving every appearance of a man who had really had enough, as Doctor Fawn listened to his heart rate with his stethoscope. “I just guessed that the colonel wanted to clear things between the two of you. So I kept out of the way, so he could have the opportunity.”
Rhapsody nodded. “Thank you,” she said. “He wanted to apologise. For the way he acted toward me. It seemed to be important to him.”
“I can relate to that,” Scarlet remarked, his eyes not leaving White. “He seems a lot better, now.”
“He IS a lot better, Paul,” Rhapsody replied with a smile. “It’s really good to see him coming back to his old self.”
“THAT I can also relate to.” Scarlet stared at the young woman with a thoughtful glance. “Did he… mention anything yet about the ring?”
“Not a word as yet,” she answered shaking her head. “Paul, I’m pretty sure that if he had intended to ask me about it, he would have done so just now.”
“Unless Fawn interrupted him.”
“I didn’t get that impression.” Rhapsody thought for a moment. “Could it be that he doesn’t remember?”
“Doctor Fawn did mention him having some confused recollections,” Scarlet nodded, wondering about that himself. “Maybe that’s one of them.” He shrugged. “I expect we’ll find out soon enough.”
Meanwhile, Doctor Fawn was still doing his check-up on a morose Colonel White, who was placidly waiting for him to finish checking his blood pressure – hopefully as soon as possible, as he hated to go through these routines. He was looking about, trying to take his mind off it, and not to look as impatient as he was feeling. It was then that, turning his head in the direction of the door, he noticed that Rhapsody had not yet left. She was still there, standing next to the closed door, talking with Captain Scarlet. White could see both of them well, half hidden behind a copse of bushes. Their conversation seemed to be agreeable enough, judging by the way the young woman was smiling. And Scarlet was smiling back at her. Warmly… affectionately, even…
Seeing them there together reminded White of something. He frowned, searching in his mind for the memory. He knew it was something that had happened recently, when he was under the influence of that Dream Spinner; but it kept eluding him…
And suddenly, he remembered. The ring Rhapsody wore on the chain around her neck, with that small charm he had also seen on Scarlet. A halo on two wings on one side for both; St. Michael the Archangel on the other side for Scarlet. And it was a sure bet Rhapsody’s also had the same design.
It hit White like a ton of bricks, just as he saw Scarlet’s hand gently stroking Rhapsody’s cheek.
“I’ll be damned,” he muttered under his breath.
He couldn’t find anything more to say. All he could do was stare at the young couple in complete disbelief.
Everything he had witnessed recently concerning these two was falling into place in his mind. The charms, the ring – a RED stone, for God’s sake, that should have been so obvious! – the way Rhapsody had blurted Scarlet’s first name when he had jumped through that roof window in Bristol; the obvious concern and anger he had sensed in the captain when he had faced him, using the young woman as a shield.
Now everything was becoming clear.
White shuddered. He suddenly realised how close – how very close – Scarlet had really been to killing him, when White had attempted to goad him into finishing the job by telling that lie about how he had ‘had his way’ with Rhapsody. He was now feeling very lucky that Scarlet had stopped long enough to think rationally about it, before pulling the trigger. The temptation must have been very strong: the colonel was speaking about the woman he loved.
“If you ever say anything against them, I promise you, I’ll find a way to keep you in Sickbay until next autumn.”
Hearing that ominous threat coming from Fawn, Colonel White almost jumped and turned to face him, his incredulity fully apparent on his face. The doctor was glaring sternly back at him.
“YOU knew about this?” White said in a very low tone.
Fawn nodded. “Yes, I know about it. I’ve known for several months.”
“Several months?” White repeated. “You mean to say it’s been going on for that long?” He shook his head, obviously baffled, and eyed Fawn suspiciously. “And how do YOU know, anyway? Are you in their confidence?”
“Hardly. I found out by myself, quite simply. I started noticing that Rhapsody came over to Sickbay nearly every time Scarlet was brought in after serious injury. And then there’s the obvious clues.” He raised his eyebrows at White. “Haven’t you noticed how they’ve been behaving towards each other during Sunday tea? The way they look at each other, the smiles… the way they’re attentive to each other? It became quite obvious to me those two were in love.”
White rolled his eyes. He let out a deep sigh. “I can’t believe I’ve been so blind! Well now, yes, it’s making sense!” He quickly looked toward the young couple he could still see through the bushes, making sure they weren’t hearing his conversation with Fawn. Satisfied that they weren’t, he turned a stern look toward the doctor.
“To think I didn’t notice a thing and YOU did… Why didn’t you tell me?”
Fawn snorted loudly. “Sorry, colonel, and without meaning any disrespect to you, it wasn’t my secret. I’m not supposed to know myself. I didn’t tell THEM I know.” He smiled and added, half-jokingly, “Besides, all this went on in MY Sickbay, and as you well know what goes on in there is strictly confidential. Why would I have told YOU?”
White nodded in agreement with Fawn’s observation. “I must look like a fool,” he grumbled.
“Well, you don’t look like a fool. Or you’d be in plenty of company. I don’t think many people know about it, as I’m pretty sure they’ve kept it to themselves. It’s probable they only told a chosen few.”
“I can think who,” White remarked sharply. “So they’re keeping this their own personal secret… Why?”
“Maybe they view this as their ‘secret garden’, in this crazy life of ours?” Fawn suggested.
White scowled. “Are you sure it’s ONLY that?”
This habit seemed to be spreading amongst his senior staff, he reflected inwardly. First, there was Captain Blue and Symphony Angel. He knew that they had been romantically involved with each other for a long time, although they were trying to keep a low profile, not wanting anybody to know about it. They weren’t succeeding very well at it, and if they thought nobody had noticed, they were badly mistaken. Colonel White was certain that just about everybody on Cloudbase knew. It wasn’t very difficult to find out, anyway, no matter how hard they were trying.
But Scarlet and RHAPSODY? White hadn’t seen that one. If he had to bet on somebody, the colonel would have thought that more than anyone else, it would be Destiny who would be involved with him. After all, they already had been in the past, before Spectrum, even discussing marriage at one point.
They were certainly discreet about it, he mused, as he glanced once again toward the couple. But still, now that he knew, his eyes were opened to the obvious.
They loved each other.
Knowing that something was going on, and acting upon it, were two different things, though. Spectrum didn’t really have specific regulations concerning those matters, but military rules were pretty strict on the subject. Not forbidding it completely, but keeping a close watch and control on it. Even going to such lengths as separating the people involved, and keeping them from being stationed at the same place. And Spectrum tended to follow military rules. The problem had never presented itself, except with Captain Brown’s relationship with communications operator Becky Evershaw. But even then, it was different, as Evershaw was stationed in London Headquarters, and Brown on Cloudbase. There was no reason to oppose them seeing each other and eventually getting married. Now THIS was another matter, and White didn’t know what to do about it yet, with any of those under his command. And since it hadn’t affected anybody’s work in any way up until now, he had simply looked the other way.
But he was wondering now if it would still be possible for him to continue acting that way. Between Captain Scarlet and Rhapsody Angel, things were very serious.
The ring he had seen on Rhapsody… If he didn’t miss his guess, it was an engagement ring.
As if he had guessed Colonel White’s reflections on the situation, Doctor Fawn leaned toward him, to address him with a warning edge to his voice:
“I meant what I said earlier, Colonel. Don’t oppose that relationship of theirs, or…”
“Give me some credit, Doctor!” White replied in annoyance, snapping out of his thoughts. “What make you think that I would oppose them, anyway?”
“I’m not angry.”
“Yes, you are. Your blood pressure blatantly says so.”
White scowled. “I’m annoyed, Doctor. Not angry. And I find this very frustrating.”
“Because you feel they should have told you? Well, they’ve been involved with each other for a long time, but maybe they don’t consider it serious enough for…”
“It is serious. They’re engaged.”
Fawn frowned with perplexity. “For somebody who just found out about this relationship, you seem to know an awful lot more about it than I do!” he noted dryly. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, quite sure. I saw it, when I saw her in… that state, you know, when her blouse was torn.” He turned a somewhat embarrassed glance up to Fawn. “She was wearing a ring, on a chain round her neck… a RED stone, surrounded by diamonds.” He paused and smiled slightly. “I didn’t make the connection then, but of course it’s rather obvious NOW, when you think about it.”
“Engaged,” Fawn repeated, pondering it. “Why yes, it is serious.” He shook his head. “That’s why you’re so concerned.”
“Yes, now you see I have reasons, Doctor. I don’t know how to handle it. There could be complications concerning regulations…”
“Damn the regulations, Colonel! What about Scarlet’s well-being?”
White frowned deeply, surprised by the doctor’s sudden outburst. “What do you mean exactly?”
“That should be obvious. I mean his unique situation. Or doesn’t it occur to you that this relationship could do him a lot of good?” White kept staring at him, still looking thoughtful, and Fawn sat down next to him. “Do you remember how it was in the beginning for him? How he would often withdraw from the others, feeling that he didn’t fit in, and intensely aware of how different he was from any other human being?”
White nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, I do remember how concerned you were about that,” he said. “And you shared that concern with Doctor Weiss.”
“Scarlet’s come a long way since those early days,” Fawn continued. “His acceptance by his peers was important to him. But I know he must still have doubts, worries, about his humanity. That incident with his father, not so long ago, was a good indication of that. He felt the blow very strongly.”
“Fortunately for him, his father came around,” White reflected. He narrowed his eyes at Fawn. “Still… You think this relationship is a good thing?”
“I’m convinced of it. It’s the next logical step down the path of acceptance for him. It can only reconcile him with the rest of the human race.” Fawn paused a second, seeing the concerned look on the Spectrum commander’s features. “Just be thankful, sir, that it IS Rhapsody. Could you imagine the implications if the lucky girl were a civilian?”
“I’d never even thought about that,” the colonel muttered.
“Yes, I know there could be obstacles due to his… difference. But I sincerely think they can beat that. So, Colonel, I don’t think it would be wise to add other complications due to some military rubbish concerning…”
“Did I ever say I would oppose them?” White sharply cut in.
“But you said…”
“I only voiced my concerns about military regulations, Doctor. I never said I would act on it.” White was looking in the direction of Scarlet and Rhapsody. He noticed that the young woman was now on her way out, heading toward the exit door. The colonel nodded slowly. “I’ll reserve my judgement for now. See how this relationship develops. And give them a chance to tell me about it, in their own time.”
“I think that’s the best course of action for now, sir,” Fawn said, with obvious satisfaction.
“Then I’ll decide what to do,” White added. Rhapsody had just left the Promenade Deck, and as the door was closing, Captain Scarlet emerged from behind the bushes to walk toward the colonel and Fawn, with a flat gift-wrapped package tucked under his left arm. “Not a word about this,” White quickly muttered. “We never had this conversation.”
“Of course not, sir,” Fawn answered under his breath.
He greeted Captain Scarlet with a broad smile, while the latter nodded to him.
“Hi, Doc. How’s your patient today?”
“IM-patient,” Fawn deadpanned. “I swear, Captain, he’s even worse than you! I’m beginning to think I’m not really appreciated on Cloudbase.”
“You’re imagining things, Doctor,” White replied. “Of course you’re appreciated.”
“Yes,” Scarlet agreed. “Where would we be without you?”
“Yes, you say that NOW…”
Fawn saw the intense look Colonel White was aiming at him and understood clearly the message he was trying to pass. The doctor cleared his throat, put his instruments in his bag, and closed it. He took his cap from the table and put it back on.
“Okay, the tests are finished for now,” he said quietly. “We’ll finish this later on, in Sickbay, Colonel.”
“Can’t wait to get back there,” White replied between his teeth; Scarlet grinned at that, but hastily wiped the smile off his face.
“I’ll leave the two of you to chat alone,” Fawn announced. “I’ll see you later, sir.”
White nodded and the doctor went his way toward the exit.
Scarlet sat down on the free chair in front of the colonel, putting the package at his feet and his cap on the table. A curious White gave a quick glance at the package, but Scarlet feigned not to notice it.
“You look a lot better today, sir,” the captain said, clearing his throat.
“I feel better everyday, Captain,” White nodded quietly. “I should think I’ll be back at work shortly.” He gave the faintest of smiles. “Of course, considering the circumstances, I wouldn’t DARE say at the moment that I envy your healing ability… But it would be nice anyway, if just for a little while.”
“Well, don’t be in too much of a hurry,” Scarlet said, chuckling. “You’d better make the best of the situation and take the time to rest before taking your command back.”
“Why? Are you and Captain Blue making such a bad a job of command? Made such a mess of things that I’ll have to clean up after you?”
“Well… no. At least, I don’t think so. But we do realise that it’s YOUR job. And let’s face it, you do it better than we do.”
“Cut the crap. The truth is that both of you hate riding a desk. Don’t you think I don’t know that by now?”
Captain Scarlet answered with a rather bashful smile.
White took a sip of his tea. “Which reminds me; you probably got Rhapsody into trouble.”
He saw the younger man shudder slightly. Serves you right, he thought with satisfaction.
“What do you mean by that, sir?” Scarlet asked, apparently unsettled by the remark.
“Just now, I saw you chatting with her by the door.” Scarlet seemed even more uncomfortable. White nodded slightly, enjoying himself tremendously, but trying not to show it. “She had to report to the Conference Room for a lecture or something like that. I’m afraid I kept her behind a little too long. And you delayed her even more.”
“Oh!” The broad smile on Scarlet’s face was one of relief. White noticed it, but said nothing. “I don’t think she’ll have problems, sir. The… hem… the summons to the Conference Room was my idea.”
“When I arrived a moment ago, I saw you were quite… in distress in the Angels' company.” Scarlet laughed. “I thought it best to ask Captain Blue to intervene to free you.”
“And so he takes the plunge, and you come out of it smelling of roses, as the others don’t know you were behind it,” White said with a bemused tone. “Sneaky, Scarlet. But if I were you, I’d watch my back from now on. Captain Blue does not take kindly to being taken for a ride. I’m quite sure he’ll get back at you for that.” He grinned mischievously. “He let it slide last time, I don’t think he will this time.”
“Er… what time are you talking about, sir?”
White gave an exasperated sigh. “Come on now! I know all about it. I know about the time Captain Blue organised all those awful lectures and target practice, so nobody would notice YOU weren’t on Cloudbase anymore… but had gone after ME, instead, to protect me against that death threat the Mysterons had pronounced against me.”
Scarlet frowned, staring with perplexity at his commander. “How long have you known about that, sir?”
“Since the very beginning. I discovered it after my – our return from the U.S.S. Panther II.” White scoffed loudly. “What, did you really think you could teach an old dog new tricks?”
“Why didn’t you say anything at the time?”
“Because if I had, I would never been able to condemn you to death without doing the same for Blue.” White smiled with amusement. “The results certainly would not have been the same. And it would have spoiled my fun.”
Scarlet nodded. “You really meant to go easy on us.”
“It would have been difficult to act differently, wouldn’t you say? You DID save my life that time. Albeit in a rather unorthodox way.” He took another sip from his cup. “And I wouldn’t be too quick to say I went easy on you. Remember afterwards?”
Scarlet blew a sigh. “Right. The boxing match.” He remembered it, all right. It was the night after Colonel White had ‘sentenced him to death’, but instead pretended it was a waste a time, since he was indestructible. Scarlet, unable to sleep, had gone to the gym, in order to let off some steam, hoping he would be able to sleep after. He had only been there for about an hour, laying into the punching bag, when Colonel White came in, and had determinedly shoved a pair of boxing gloves into his hands. Scarlet had understood the meaning of that gesture, just by looking at his commander’s grim and stern features. It was the colonel’s way of getting even for that punch Scarlet had thrown at him. And there was no way he would have accepted no for an answer.
“You wiped the floor with me that night,” the captain mused quietly.
White scoffed. “Nonsense! You let yourself be beaten! Frankly, I was disappointed. I expected more competition out of you.”
“I couldn’t very well hit you back after what had happened before, sir. I was in trouble enough as it was.” Scarlet grinned, amused. “But if it’s any consolation, you pack a mean left hook.”
“You would say that now,” White grumbled. “After that fight we had in the woods… THAT time, you didn’t hold back.”
“No, I didn’t,” Scarlet sighed. “Sorry. But you were quite a handful. You gave me a lot of trouble.”
“Did I, really?” White mused, rubbing his chin.
Scarlet chuckled. “Oh yes, sir. You certainly did!”
White grinned broadly. “Not bad for a man of my age, eh?” There was some sort of satisfied glimmer in his eyes that amused Scarlet greatly.
“Your memory seems to be getting better as well, sir,” the captain noted.
White shrugged. “I admit there are a lot of confused details.” He looked over at Scarlet, watching his reactions, but couldn’t see anything.
Instead, the young captain shook his head.
“Confused details, sir?”
“Yes, especially concerning the most hectic episodes. And those few times I lost control of my temper.” The colonel scratched his ear, visibly unsettled. “It’s a really strange feeling. My mind was a blur most of the time. It was as if my mind was telling me how to act, and I had no other choice but to comply. And at other times, it was the other way around: as if I was a totally different man doing all those things, but with my mind having no control over my body. I believe that’s when I lost it, most of the time. It’s difficult to explain. That must be really confusing to try to understand.”
Scarlet shook his head. “Remember, sir?” he said quietly. “I’ve been through the same thing.”
The Spectrum commander nodded, thoughtful. He was now staring intensely at the smiling young man seated in front of him. He heaved a deep sigh. “What am I going to do with you?” he said almost in an undertone.
“Me, sir?” Scarlet asked, frowning in puzzlement.
“You. Captain Blue. Everyone.” White shook his head. “I know what you all did for me. Keeping silent about my disappearance, the whole deal with the Dream Spinner… Not telling Spectrum Intelligence. Do you realise you’ve landed me in it? Tell me, how should I handle that?”
Scarlet knew that question would come. He had been dreading this moment from the very beginning; to tell the truth, he didn’t know how to answer Colonel White. But he was determined to defend himself – and all the others. If need be, he would take full responsibility. He lowered his gaze, and cleared his throat.
“Sir, if I can say so myself, I…”
“No, you’d better stop right now.” Scarlet looked back up into his superior’s face. White was still staring straight at him, with as determined an expression as Scarlet had ever seen on him. “I know what you’re going to tell me,” White continued. “If I were to blame you, you’d insist on taking all this on yourself, saying it was your idea to start with. That you convinced Captain Blue and the others to follow your lead. On the other hand, if I were to thank you, and commend you on your actions, you’d say that you weren’t alone in acting that way, that all the others contributed to help defuse a situation that have disrupted Spectrum’s integrity.” White sighed. “The situation was indeed difficult to handle. The Mysterons tried to deal Spectrum a blow from which it might never have been able to recover.”
Scarlet frowned. “Are you saying we were right to act the way we did?”
“No,” White said shaking his head again. “I’m saying that you were lucky it paid off. The Mysterons weren’t able to carry out their threat by using me, and Spectrum came out of it unscathed.” He paused a second, weighing what he was to say next. “And, if I may personally add, I was also very lucky, that you all stood by me to help me get through it.” He nodded briefly, his eyes not leaving the young man, staring at him, waiting. “Thank you.”
Scarlet shook his head slowly. White’s reaction – while understandable – was somehow unexpected, in the sense that he hadn’t expected him to voice it so directly.
“That was the least we could do for you, sir,” the young British captain answered.
The Spectrum commander looked down. “I wonder… I know YOU are behind this. There’s not a doubt in my mind about that. I’d like to know… why did you PERSONALLY do it? Why did you take so much risk to help me that way?”
Scarlet sighed. “I had a personal debt toward you,” he answered.
“About what happened two years ago?” White shrugged. “I couldn’t act differently.”
“I know it wasn’t only a strategic move, sir,” Scarlet interrupted. “You didn’t know about my healing ability at the beginning, so you didn’t do it to have an ‘indestructible agent’ who would eventually even the score with the Mysterons. When I escaped from their clutches, you believed in me and you didn’t let me down.” He shook his head. “You were in a similar situation. I couldn’t do less for you than you did for me.”
White sighed. He nodded slowly. “Yes,” he admitted. “The situation was quite similar, wasn’t it? Now I have a better understanding of what you’ve been through. And how frustrated you must have been knowing you’d done all that without being able to stop yourself.”
“I try not to dwell upon that, now.” Scarlet paused a second. “I feel like the lucky one: I don’t remember any of the things I did. While YOU, on the other hand…”
“I admit, Captain, it’s a bad feeling. But I’d rather think it’s ME who’s the lucky one.” White carefully eyed his compatriot. “They didn’t kill ME. Although they did try very hard. And I know I have to thank you, Paul, for their failure.”
The use of his real name, in his commander’s mouth, in those circumstances, made Scarlet smile with some contentment. Even more than the 'thank you' in itself. “Well, well, well,” the captain murmured. “Are you mellowing, sir?”
White scoffed. “ME? Mellowing? Not on your life, Metcalfe! Don’t be ridiculous!” He lowered his gaze and conspicuously eyed the gift-wrapped package at Scarlet’s feet. “Now, when are you going to give me that present which is obviously for me?”
Scarlet laughed, hearing the grumbling tone of his commander and the obviously impatient curiosity beneath it. He reached for the package, and put it on the colonel’s lap, carefully avoiding his injured leg. “A welcome home gift, sir,” he told him. “I would say it comes from all of us but… I have to give credit to Captain Blue and Captain Grey for retrieving it for you.”
White stared inquisitively at the gift, wrapped in gold foil paper, and tied up with a large white ribbon. It rested heavily on his lap. Awkwardly, keeping it from falling with his right hand, still in its sling, he used his left to tear off the paper in large pieces. Scarlet watched him, a big grin on his face, waiting.
It wasn’t long before White had removed enough of the paper to peer at what had been given him. It was a large, heavy, and thick brass plaque. He stared at the object with stunned astonishment. He knew it so very well. He stroked the words engraved on the burnished surface, a thoughtful look upon his face.
The inscription was short and simple:
“Sir Francis Drake - 2045”
White looked up at Scarlet; the latter couldn’t define the expression upon his commander’s face. There was confusion, and puzzlement, sadness and pride at the same time. What was absolutely sure was that he did not appear untouched.
“This plaque was on the bridge of the Drake,” the colonel murmured.
Scarlet nodded. “I know. I saw it there.”
“How… how in God’s name did you get it? I thought it had sunk with the ship!”
“Well, yes, it did.” Scarlet shook his head. “It was Grey and Blue’s crazy idea to try and see if they could salvage it. My fault, I presume, since I mentioned it. They thought you would be glad to have it as a souvenir. Seeing how emotional you seemed when the Drake was destroyed…”
“I was emotional?” White repeated, frowning, ready to protest the insinuation.
Scarlet quickly held up his hands. “…Just a little, sir,” he added swiftly.
White turned his attention to the plaque, filling his eyes with it. “I… This is really an overwhelming gift, Captain,” he murmured. “Please, would you convey my thanks to…” He stopped and shrugged. “No. I’ll personally thank Captain Blue and Captain Grey when I next see them.”
Scarlet smiled again; he opened his vest pocket and fished something out of it. “And I have something for you, too.”
He put into Colonel White’s opened palm a small chain, weighted down by two laminated dog-tags, bearing the Spectrum logo. “I believe these are yours. Sorry. I didn’t have time to give them back to you sooner.”
White raised his hand, holding the chain, and looked at the dog-tags dangling in front of his eyes. “Thank you,” he said, nodding to Scarlet. “I was wondering if you still had them.”
“Of course I had them,” Scarlet replied. “When I found them in my hand, after waking up in the Drake‘s Sickbay, I realised you had left them as some sort of message to me.”
“I’d found them on me. A pity I didn’t find them sooner! I wonder if it would have made a difference, anyway…” White cleared his throat. “I wanted to let you know that I believed you were telling me the truth.”
“That’s more or less what I worked out.”
“Do you think I’m still worthy of these?” White asked, frowning with doubt.
Scarlet was perplexed by the remark. “I’d say you had more than EARNED them back, sir!” He sighed deeply. “Sir, you had it pretty bad down there, during this whole affair. You did so well, considering your situation. That Dream Spinner contraption…”
White shivered. The mere thought was still uncomfortable for him.
“It really screwed up your mind,” Scarlet continued carefully. “It rendered you unstable. You were drugged, brainwashed… You didn’t know who were your allies and who were the enemy. Looking at you now, it’s easy to see that you’ve recovered pretty well… Or else we wouldn’t even be able to have this conversation.”
“You wouldn’t take the risk of leaving me alone either, would you, Captain?” White asked, raising an eyebrow.
Scarlet smiled briefly. “According to Doctor Fawn, only two people ever succeeded in completely recovering from the Dream Spinner treatment,” he said quietly. “Well, now I’d say we can add a third name to that list.”
“A pity we weren’t able to locate where that… thing is hidden,” White grumbled. “Knowing that it could still be used to subvert other minds…” He shuddered again. “I’m glad Captain Blue escaped that fate. That isn’t something I’d wish on anybody. The memory of what it did to me will haunt me ‘til the day I die.”
“We’ll find it, sir,” Scarlet promised. “We’ll find that thing and the people operating it.”
“The Network,” White growled with disgust in his tone. “We CAN’T let them continue their coercive work, Scarlet. They could do a lot of damage. Especially if they have infiltrated world security organisations.”
Scarlet nodded grimly. “And according to Captain Blue, considering what that ‘doctor’ told him, they could have infiltrated even Spectrum.”
Colonel White scowled. “Yes, I know. I’m not too happy about that.”
“Intelligence is already working to find these people. Unfortunately, for now, we don’t have much to work on. Except for the few things that you, Captain Blue and I discovered.”
“You’re right,” White mumbled. “That isn’t much.”
“Senior Agent Wade told me that we couldn’t even get anything conclusive from the mercenaries who were captured at Liberty Base and the few survivors of the Drake explosion. It turns out they were simple hired hands, selling their services to the highest bidder. They can’t tell us anything of importance. We have to assume those who were in the know were killed when the ship exploded.”
Scarlet shook his head slowly, seeing his commander’s grim-looking face. “Eventually, they’ll make a move – a mistake – that will permit us to find them.” He paused a short instant, before continuing: “They’ve made this personal. They WON’T escape us. It’s only a question of time.”
“The sooner the better,” White continued, musingly. ”And what about the ‘doctor’?”
“He’s still in a deep comatose state, since he was caught in that explosion at Liberty Base.”
“Has he shown any signs of returning to life yet?”
“He has, actually. The doctors are hopeful he’ll awaken, but unfortunately, it looks like it could be a long process.”
“I really can’t say I feel sorry for his present state,” White remarked with a scowl. “Not after what he did to me. But still, it’s a shame that he can’t give us any information for now.’
“Intelligence had him transferred to Spectrum Medical Centre, in Atlanta. If he ever wakes up, and is able to talk, you can be sure he will be questioned.”
White grew sombre. “Let’s hope we CAN get some information about this organisation he’s a part of.”
“The way I see it, sir, AT LEAST we’ve put him out of circulation.” Scarlet slowly came to his feet, taking his cap from the table and putting it on. “In that state, he won’t be able to brainwash anyone anymore. For A LONG time.”
“Yes,” White agreed, nodding. “Since you put it that way… It is a comforting thought.” He eyed the young officer who was standing in front of him. “You’re leaving me now, Captain?”
“As much as I’d like to stay and continue this talk, sir, I’ve got duties to attend to,” Scarlet answered. “Or else I’ll have to attend the lecture Captain Blue‘s organised in the Conference Room!”
White smiled in turn. He extended his left hand to the young man. The latter looked at it awkwardly for a short moment before reaching for it. “Thank you, Captain Scarlet,” the colonel said gravely. “I really owe you one this time.”
“I only did my duty, sir.”
“You did more than that, Paul. You did FAR more than that.”
Scarlet’ smile broadened. He squeezed the colonel’s hand one last time before releasing it…
…And bringing his own hand to his brow in a smart and very military salute.
* * *
Night had fallen on the Spectrum Medical Centre in Atlanta, Georgia, where everything was quiet. It wasn’t one of Spectrum most closely guarded facilities, but it had a handful of security guards on the premises and nobody was allowed in or out without going through a very thorough identity check. No documents or materials were to leave the Centre, not even the slightest bit of paper, as very sensitive issues were dealt with inside its walls.
The SMC didn’t have a detention section, as it never had need for any, until that moment. The prisoner that had been brought here four days ago, from a military hospital in Scotland, had been put in a room in the psychiatric wing. Plunged in a deep coma, he was hooked to machinery intended to keep him alive, and to monitor his vital signs. He was closely watched over by doctors and nurses, who took observations at regular intervals, unable to do more at the moment for him.
He had stayed stable ever since his arrival. Nothing indicated whether he would soon wake up or whether, conversely, he would sink deeper into his coma.
There was a guard at the nurse’s station, one block down the hall, keeping an eye on comings and goings; he knew everybody who worked there, civilians and military. He had no reason to assume there would be any wrongdoing on the part of any of these people.
The door leading to the comatose prisoner was out of the guard’s view; busy checking on a young orderly coming out, he didn’t even notice somebody going in that direction. Silently, the door was pulled shut, and the newcomer came near the bed, silently, to peer down on the sleeping patient. The monitor at the head of the bed was beeping regularly, all its readings normal.
The visitor stroked the prisoner’s hair, in an almost apologetic way. “I’m sorry…” a voice murmured, “but you have become a security hazard. I hope you can understand… But I have no choice but to do this.”
A hand took a syringe from the pocket of a white jacket and slid the fine needle into a tube connected to the man’s arm. An injection was swiftly made. There was nothing inside the syringe but air. No trace would be left. Nobody would suspect anything; they would all believe the patient had died of natural causes.
The visitor put the syringe back in the jacket pocket and turned around; he went out through the door as quietly as he had come in, leaving it half open, listening to the regular beeping sound of the machinery, as he unhurriedly strode down the hallway towards the nurse’s station.
It was only when the visitor had turned a corner to disappear behind a door that the beeping sound in the prisoner’s room became suddenly irregular and the machinery emitted a warning signal to inform the medical personnel that something was wrong.
The beeping had stopped to change into a long wailing, by the time the visitor had left the SMC psychiatric wing…